When I was first diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD), I honestly didn't believe it. You see, I didn't really feel sad. Most of the time I just felt tired, anxious, and angry. Worse, I thought feeling that way meant I was a bad mom. From the inside of my head things seemed "normal," but I learned there are actually things you don't realize you are doing because you have PPD.
All new moms obsessively count their newborn's wet and poop-filled diapers, and set an alarm to make sure their baby never goes longer than three hours without eating, right? Wrong. Guys, I had a spreadsheet. Sure, I was tired all of the time, but what new mom isn't, right? And when I tried to sleep, I couldn't. I mean, I thought it was totally normal to stare at my sleeping newborn, or want to hold him through his naps and through the night. When I did lay him down, I would stare at the monitor waiting for him to make a sound, so I could rush in and pick him up as soon as he woke.
I continued an impossible routine of breastfeeding, pumping, and supplementing, even though I freaking hated it. I became so irritable and had such a short fuse that I lost my temper about little things — like my husband coming home a few minutes late — or, honestly, nothing at all. I thought that yelling at him or feeling angry with my baby was just me being "hormonal."
It wasn't until I went to my six week postpartum visit that my midwife put all of the aforementioned together and diagnosed me with postpartum depression. I wish I would have called her sooner, because once I started treatment I started to feel like me again, and started parenting in a whole new way.
There's a popular poem called Song For A Fifth Child by American poet Ruth Hulburt Hamilton that ends with the lines:
"The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I am pretty sure she meant this to be a comment about moms relaxing because babies grow up too fast, but honestly, I freaking hate it.
You see, I totally felt like I had to hold my baby all of the time, and want to hold my baby all of the time to be a good mom. I had no idea I was doing this in part because I irrationally feared that I wasn't good for her, and also I wanted to make sure she didn't die in her sleep. Holding my baby constantly wasn't a good thing at all. It was a sign of PPD.
I joked about having mommy brain, but had no idea that a foggy brain or trouble concentrating can actually, according to the nonprofit Postpartum Progress, be signs of postpartum depression. I had no idea that my difficulty remembering words, or what I had got up to do, might be a way my body was telling me something was wrong. When you thinking about it, mommy brain is scary, and not funny at all.
As a new mom I was constantly on edge. Using a baby monitor seemed like a normal thing to do, and it was. Staring at the monitor obsessively because I was sure it was not working, and worrying that I wouldn't hear my baby wake up, however, was not. See also: staring at him through the video monitor for hours while he was sleeping.
When I learned that I didn't make enough breast milk, I continued an impossible routine of breastfeeding, pumping, and supplementing with pumped milk and formula with a supplemental nursing system around the clock. This so-called "triple feeding" broke me, but I continued, believing that breastfeeding was more important than sleep or my health.
As Dr. Marlene Freeman an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School told Postpartum Progress, "For some women, breastfeeding is difficult and stressful. It is important to remember that adding distress in a situation in which a woman is at risk carries its own consequences. If breastfeeding adds to a woman’s depressive or anxious symptoms, it is reasonable to stop. Sometimes it is necessary to stop."
I so wish I had known that continuing to breastfeed was contributing to my PPD.
Before I got treated for PPD, I was so angry and irritable. I had always thought depression meant sadness, but guys, I had such a short fuse that I lost my temper with everyone, including my mom, my partner, my other children, and even my newborn. According to Mayo Clinic, irritability and anger are common signs of PPD. I had no idea.
OK, so when I was handed discharge instructions at the hospital that included keeping track of wet and poop-filled diapers, feeding frequency and duration, and baby's weight gain, all to ensure that my baby was getting enough to eat, I went a little overboard. I totally thought it was normal to create a spreadsheet on my laptop and check diapers compulsively every five minutes. I set alarms on my phone to ensure that my baby ate at least every three hours, or if not, that I pumped to ensure my supply. I continued this for weeks, even though my baby was gaining weight. What I needed to do was relax and let my provider know how obsessed I was. She told me that this unrelenting anxiety can be a sign of PPD, or another postpartum mood disorder. Once I started treatment, I was able to stop obsessing.
Guilt seems come hand in hand with motherhood. However, I felt guilt about things that were totally not my fault — like my breastfeeding challenges — and I was unable to get past the guilt. According to Postpartum Progress, some mom guilt is normal, but if you feel an overwhelming amount of guilt, can't get past it or start to feel like your baby would be better off without you, this can be a sign of PPD, and that you need help. No matter how guilty you feel, know that you are enough and you don't have to be perfect to be a good mom.
After my son was born, I immediately lost weight without even trying. It's no wonder, with how little I was eating. I had no idea that postpartum weight loss was a sign of PPD. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, people with PPD often experience a loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss.
At the same time, our culture's bullshit ideas about "bouncing back" after childbirth can make women overlook postpartum weight loss, or even see it as a good thing. However, as I learned, you need to heal and recover way more than you need to lose the "baby weight," and that means getting adequate nutrition and asking your doctor if you can't seem to eat.
New motherhood can feel so overwhelming, but help is available. If you're struggling with depression and/or thoughts of suicide, you can reach the U.S. National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255. International hotlines can be found here.